The OmPrompt blog post "Are you too busy to improve" made me think of all the other times that I have come across this problem, what the causes might be, and how we can encourage people to embrace change.

The problem

Many businesses find themselves creating time-consuming processes for managing information, often involving hours of staff time and reams of paper. This means that staff get bogged down in administrative and clerical tasks, which prevents them from doing other, more complex tasks that require human intervention, like communicating with people. Once these processes are in place, it is incredibly hard to change them, because they become custom and practice, and people are resistant to change - partly because of the amount of time they have already invested in the process, and partly because we worry about the risks involved in adopting new processes and ways of working.

Case studies

These are all real examples that I have come across in my career.

  • A secretary typing up an entry for a student file created a blank table in Microsoft Word, printed it out onto a sheet of card, and then used a typewriter to fill in the student’s details on the card.
  • An accountancy firm which entered data onto a sheet of paper in rows and columns, and then added up both the rows and columns (known as “cross-casting”) using a calculator - despite the fact that spreadsheets such as Supercalc and Excel were widely available.
  • People who manually create a table of contents in Microsoft Word, despite there being a macro to generate one (if you use the heading styles throughout the document).   

The causes

  • People are unaware of all the features available in software.
  • People don’t know how to use the right piece of software for the task, so they try to make do with the tools they do know how to use.
  • People don’t stop to assess the nature of the task they are doing.

The solution

  • Think about the nature of the tasks you are doing - what kind of tool would be best for the job?
  • List the features of the task, and identify what software would be the best fit to carry out the task efficiently.
  • Ensure that you have the right tools available.
  • Make sure that staff are trained in using the tools they need for their job.
  • Don’t carry on doing something a particular way just because it is the way you have always done it. Take the time to find out if there is a more efficient way of doing it.

Benefits

  • Increased efficiency because tasks are done right first time, faster, and more accurately.
  • Greater job satisfaction for staff.
  • More time is available for engaging with colleagues and customers.
  • You can do some of the more complex tasks that need doing.